Sand Mining

After water, sand is the most widely used natural resource.

Sand is mined, smuggled, and stolen, and the impacts of this have far-reaching socio-political, economic and environmental implications, accelerating coastal erosion, and destroying ecosystems that are relied upon by coastal communities for their very existence.

September 6, 2023

A sand dredger actively working close to an oyster’s nest in Nigeria, 2019 (by Ei'eke CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia).

Alarming’ scale of marine sand dredging laid bare by new data platform – the Guardian

UN-developed Marine Sand Watch estimates 6bn tonnes dug up a year, well beyond rate at which it is replenished.

One million lorries of sand a day are being extracted from the world’s oceans, posing a “significant” threat to marine life and coastal communities facing rising sea levels and storms, according to the first-ever global data platform to monitor the industry.

The new data platform, developed by the UN Environment Programme (Unep), tracks and monitors dredging of sand in the marine environment by using the AIS (automatic identification systems) data from ships. Using data from 2012-19, Marine Sand Watch estimates the dredging industry is digging up 6bn tonnes of marine sand a year, a scale described as “alarming”. The rate of extraction is growing globally, Unep said, and is approaching the natural rate of replenishment of 10bn to 16bn tonnes of sand flowing into the sea from rivers and needed to maintain coastal structure and ecosystems.

The platform has identified “hotspots” including the North Sea, south-east Asia and the east coast of the United States as areas of concern. In many places where extraction is more intense, including parts of Asia, marine sand is being extracted well beyond the rate at which it is being replenished from rivers.

“The scale of environmental impacts of shallow sea mining activities and dredging is alarming, including biodiversity, water turbidity, and noise impacts on marine mammals,” said Pascal Peduzzi, the director of GRID-Geneva at Unep.

“This data signals the urgent need for better management of marine sand resources and to reduce the impacts of shallow sea mining,” he said. “Unep invites all stakeholders, member states and the dredging sector to consider sand as a strategic material, and to swiftly engage in talks on how to improve dredging standards around the world.”

Developed by GRID-Geneva, a centre for analytics within Unep, Marine Sand Watch has trained artificial intelligence to identify the movement of dredging vessels from its AIS data. It has data from 2012-19 from Global Fishing Watch, a company set up to track commercial fishing activities using AIS data from fishing vessels, but is working on more recent data.

Sand and gravel makes up half of all the materials mined in the world. Globally, 50bn tonnes of sand and gravel are used every year – the equivalent of a wall 27 metres high and 27 metres wide stretching round the equator. It is the key ingredient of concrete and asphalt.

“Our entire society is built on sand, the floor of your building is probably concrete, the glass on the windows, the asphalt on roads is made of sand,” said Peduzzi. “We can’t stop doing it because we need lots of concrete for the green transition, for wind turbines and other things…”


More on Sand Mining . . .

Dredging activities on the Langwarder Wheels, Netherlands (by Dominicus Johannes Bergsma CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia).

6 billion tonnes of sand taken annually from oceans, causing irreparable damage to benthic life – Down to Earth

Some six billion tonnes of sand is being extracted annually from the floor of the world’s oceans, causing irreparable damage to benthic life, according to a new global data platform on sand and other sediment extraction in the marine environment.
The new data platform, Marine Sand Watch, has been developed by GRID-Geneva, a Centre for Analytics within the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). It is available at:…

Part of the Virginia Beach Hurricane Protection Beach Re-nourishment Project, a hopper dredges sits off the Virginia Beach oceanfront pumping sand from the ocean floor to a pump-out landing station where the material is piped onshore (by Pamela Spaugy, Army Corps of Engineers CC BY 2.0 via Flickr).

Sand mining is a huge problem, a new global map shows – the Verge

People are dredging an alarming amount of sand from the seafloor, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned today. An average of 6 billion tons of sand are taken from marine environments every year, according to a new global data platform from UNEP….

Panoramic view of Pari Island taken from the east side (by Lucky Christiawan, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia).

Indonesian fishermen, activists fear loss of marine life, islands as sea-sand exports resume – South China Morning Post

The last time dredging vessels came to Rupat Island, the Indonesian island’s coast was pillaged for its sea sand, says fisherman Eriyanto, who saw his income shrivel as the seabed – and the ecosystem it shelters – was scooped up for sale.
Now, the 36-year-old from Suka Damai village fears worse is yet to come, after President Joko Widodo last month lifted a 20-year-old ban on sea-sand exports….

Sand Mining (by Sumaira Abdulali, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia).

As sand miners prosper in Uganda, a vital lake basin suffers – AP News

The excavator grunts in the heart of the wetland, baring its teeth. There are trucks waiting to be loaded with sand, and more almost certainly on the way.
This is how it is here daily in Lwera — a central Ugandan region on the fringes of Lake Victoria: a near-constant demand for sand that’s exerting pressure on a wetland that’s home to locals and animals and feeds into Africa’s largest freshwater lake…

Unauthorized sand mining at the Tatai River in the Koh Kong Conservation Corridor, Cambodia 2012 (by Wikirictor, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia).

In Vietnam, the mighty Mekong’s banks are crumbling as illegal sand miners run riot – South China Morning Post

When the retaining wall of Vietnamese fish farmer Ho Thi Bich Tuyen’s catfish pond collapsed into the Hau River several years ago, she knew who was to blame: illegal sand miners.
“They took the sand, and the riverbed just kept going lower and lower,” she said. “There were so many of them. The sand miners came close to the riverbank. So I told the local ward officials to shoo them away, but at night they came back again…”

Sand Mining in Quarry Lake, Tahirpur, Bangladesh (by Hasin Hayder on unsplash).

S A N D : Essential . . . Unregulated . . . and Dwindling

“Sand is the foundation of human construction and a fundamental ingredient in concrete, asphalt, glass and other building materials. But sand, like other natural resources, is limited and its ungoverned extraction is driving erosion, flooding, the salination of aquifers and the collapse of coastal defences…”

Comparing Global Exports and Imports of Natural Sands, 2020 (Treemap visualization created with Harvard University's Atlas of Economic Complexity application online, May 30, 2023).

Global sand trade figures don’t add up – Beneath the Sands ERC

On March 17, more than 120 tons of sand packed into drums was loaded onto the Basle Express, a container freight ship more than three soccer fields long. The ship was docked in one of America’s major ports, Savannah, Georgia, in the Southeast region of the country.

The shipment itself was not remarkable — except for how it is emblematic of the international sand trade, highlighting the type of sand that attracts foreign buyers, the countries that are buying and those that are selling…

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